Book Review. Mediation Skills and Strategies. A Practical Guide

Abridged version in English of the original

Publishing Hous: NARCEA
ISBN: 9788427719422
Pages: 144
Edition: 1st Edition 2013

John M. Haynes is one of the pioneers of divorce mediation; but truth be told, he has been excessively shoved aside, at least in our country, by the strong push of North-American authors we all know very well. However, there is a mediation school that comes from our neighbour country, the UK. This school has Haynes as its best reference point. Haynes is the author of the classic book “The Fundamentals of Family Mediation” (published in Spain for the second time by Gaia in 2012), and he passed away in 1999 not without leaving a long lasting trace. Also from Great Britain comes the well-known mediator Lisa Parkinson, author of “Family Mediation”, published in Spain by Gedisa in 2005, a book that was well accepted by Spanish mediators. And a couple of years ago, the author of the book this review deals with was introduced in Spain by Narcea Ediciones: Tony Whatling, who also comes from the UK and is an experienced mediator that presents his best practices in this basic book. Not basic as in plain, but as in simple and close, foundational, and key. Whatling follows Haynes as a model; in fact, he was trained by Haynes, and he refers to some of Parkinson’s best contributions in several occasions. But he goes beyond. Whatling contributes to the “Haynesian” influence in this book with his vast experience and know-how about practising.

He sets off with the classic debate in mediation on the different ways to mediate based on the mediator’s role and more specifically on how active the mediator role must be not to lose impartiality or for the process not lose its consensual nature. In this connection, he goes through the concepts of facilitative mediation, evaluating mediation and directive mediation, which are widespread Anglo-Saxon concepts and are rarely implemented in our context. He also deals with and refers to transformative, narrative and Rogerian non-directive mediation. With regards to less directive views and more directive and evaluative views Whatling proposes an interesting idea, drawing on Haynes, about the strategic view of the mediator practice. He proposes that it is not negative for mediators to have a hypothesis but it is rather necessary and relevant for an appropriate intervention. Failing to understand this has been very harmful for our profession. Having hypotheses and wanting to clarify them does not mean lacking neutrality. It means practising to an end, i.e., professionally participating in conflicts as a facilitator so that disputants can overcome them. Whatling seems to bed for the facilitation mediation as he feels close to it; but he understands that the intervention requires, in its turn, strategy and occasionally directedness and good management of situations, which is not at all controlling (Managing vs. Controlling). This doesn’t mean telling the parties what to do or what to agree upon; it means using our techniques with a concrete strategy that can be useful in the parties’ road to resolving the conflict, from managing emotions to focus attention on the future, etc. This requires that a good professional intervention have an appropriate overarching collection of tools. In any case, his aim is not to give an answer to this classic debate. Many texts are devoted to this, some of them are good, others not so good to justify one action or the contrary one. Whatling’s book is a practical one. And it is necessary.

Whatling is interested in technique and in what can be the contribution of psychology to mediation.  Thus, he incorporates elements from Eric Berne’s Transactional Analysis (henceforth TA) to mediation, as well as Thomas Harris’s “I am OK-You are OK” model, or the “script” concept largely discussed by Claude Steiner or Berne himself. This is not the only text in which he advocates transferring the TA knowledge to the world of mediation. In fact, in the article Whatling wrote for this issue of Revista de Mediación he includes the attention to and identification of crossed transactions and refocusing on the adult-adult transactions task in the work repertoire. Both TA and mediation pay attention to the interaction/transaction and require practitioners to be attentive to the “games” that occur in the communication between the parties in a mediation session (“game” in the sense presented by Berne in TA, developed by other authors such as Steven Karpman). We know that Whatling is writing another book and we are convinced that in this work he will go even more in depth in this regard, and we are looking forward to reading it.

Let’s go back, though, to “Mediation: Skills and Strategies”. He uses an approachable language; and he does not dwell in absurd technicalities and obscurantisms to cover what we need to clearly understand. Rarely have we seen the techniques and strategies that are crucial for mediators so well explained. Thanks to his vast experience, the author leads us to reviewing all the main techniques of mediation: from the basic listening, the art of asking questions, silence management, summary, reflection and paraphrasing to the more complex ones that are less known by those who have not followed Haynes’ master piece, such as normalising, mutualising, concatenation, or reframing. It is true that a “toolbox” doesn’t make a professional, but a practitioner without a “toolbox” – without a good multi-tool “Swiss Army Knife”, paraphrasing the author -, is less of a professional. However, behind techniques we can see a long experience, a great deal of know-how, and the relaxed but expert tone used by Whatling makes us feel it.

To conclude, the book we review here is required reading for any mediation student or apprentice, as it will help them to better know our profession as it reveals the best-kept professional secrets. Active mediators should not think this book has little to offer. On the contrary, it is nice reading it, and refreshing our knowledge about mediation techniques and strategies, as well as the experience of the author that underlies each example, will help us to reinforce and improve our actions.

After reading this book, we look forward to the new book Whatling promises.ón al desvelarles nuestros mejores secretos profesionales. Pero que no piensen los ya mediadores en activo que este libro no tiene nada que aportarles. Todo lo contrario. De lectura muy agradable, el refresco de las técnicas y de las estrategias mediadoras, y la experiencia del autor que subyace en cada ejemplo, nos va a ayudar a reforzar y mejorar nuestras actuaciones.

Tras su lectura, ya sólo queda esperar con ilusión ese nuevo libro que Whatling nos promete.


What is Revista de Mediación

It is an academic, biannual, online, and free of charge journal on Mediation and other ADR, of high editorial quality, highlighted relevance and professional interest that encourages scientific study and rigor, best practices and innovation, analysis and positive resolution of conflict through alternative and peaceful ways (ADR). It is addressed to mediators, specialists in conflict analysis, management and resolution, and to those interested in these fields.

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The “Revista de Mediación” management team considers the best authors and the most updated research projects that might be of interest for the entire mediation practitioners. Having quality papers is, ultimately, the main criterion to decide upon publication. In order to accurately respond to the professional principle this Journal aims at, we consider that it is appropriate to meet some requirements other publications, publication standards and writing books have in order to insure the relevance of the published topics.

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